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Brad Paisley Realizes the Magic of ‘Old Alabama,’ Full-Length Albums and Duets With Carrie Underwood

Brad Paisley
Sony Nashville

When Brad Paisley was in his late teens, he was listening to all the country music greats: Alabama, Dwight Yoakam and Vince Gill, to name a few. Now in his late 30s and on the cusp of putting out his own new album, ‘This Is Country Music,’ Paisley’s actually gotten to pull in some of his musical heroes. Alabama make an appearance on his current hit song ‘Old Alabama,’ a track that Paisley says is “almost like sampling one of their old songs” but is all about a girl who’s turned on by listening to that “back home come on music that comes from the heart.”

Paisley, who dedicates the May 23 release of ‘This Is Country Music’ to his own love affair with country music growing up, reveals to Taste of Country the follow-up single to ‘Old Alabama’ (hint: it involves duet partner Carrie Underwood), whether he has any marriage advice to collaborator/summer tourmate/soon-to-be newlywed Blake Shelton, and why he’s just as excited to hear Lady Gaga‘s new record as he is to release his own.

The album opens with the title track, ‘This Is Country Music,’ which starts off with a compelling line: “You’re not supposed to say the word ‘cancer’ in a song, and telling folks that Jesus is the answer can rub ‘em wrong.” What made you choose that line as the opener?
We were just talkin’ as we wrote that song. We were talkin’ about the way country music can go so many places that no other form of music goes, from time to time. And that is places like dealing head on with those topics, among others. The song became this exploration into what I love about country. There were things we had to leave out — the song would’ve been 20 minutes. We really explored everything, you know, talking about patriotism and drinking and life — all these things. It’s sort of my love song to the type of music I’ve grown up listening to.

What was your reaction to getting a yes from Alabama when you asked them to record ‘Old Alabama’ with you?
I was ecstatic. I was really glad they were willing … I guess I’m naive because it never occurred to me that they’d say no. I realize, looking back, that they had every right to say, “No, we’ve sort of been there, done that, and we’re kinda happy at this state in our lives at this point, not being in the limelight.” And instead, thankfully, they were kinda like, “Yeah, that sounds like fun! We haven’t done anything in a while.” And in retrospect, I realize what a little miracle it is.

‘Remind Me,’ your duet with Carrie Underwood, is clearly a standout track on the album. Why did you pick Carrie to sing with you on that song? Was she your go-to person to call?
Oh, yeah. I think we’ve become really close, having toured together and become friends and co-hosting the CMAs for several years. We just get along great and sing great together. She’s probably pretty much my first choice to sing with when it comes to a duet with a woman like that. I mean, we just sort of share the same values and get along that well. And also, I just don’t think there’s a better singer than her, so it’s sort of selfish to be able to sing with her and perform. Every take sounded like that [the final recording].

Are you considering ‘Remind Me’ as the next single?
Yeah, definitely. I think it probably will be. I don’t think there will be any holding it back. I’ll be very excited for fans to hear this because she’s off the radio right now, you know. She doesn’t have a current single out. So that’ll work out really well.

You’ve said you wrote this record to lyrically reflect the lives of country music fans, but which one of these songs reflects you personally the most?
I’m trying to think. You know, I don’t know. There’s pieces of all of them, really … maybe ‘One of Those Lives.’ I deal with what it’s like to feel sorry for yourself for things that you realize, after you hear about maybe a kid going through a really rough thing or a family that’s having to deal with the unthinkable. [You realize] kind of what a big baby you are. That’s me [laughs]. I’m that big baby.

Watch Brad Paisley Perform ‘Old Alabama’ With Alabama at the 2011 ACM Awards

Do you still get nervous right before a big album release like this?
A little bit, mostly because there’s nothing predictable any more. Our business has changed so much. Do people even want albums, or do they just buy singles now? You sort of feel like you’re the last guy manufacturing VCRs … but I really like albums, and so I like doing them. I’ll be the last one making them, even when no one’s buying them.

Country music seems like it’s going to hold onto the album for a while because it’s such a storytelling format.
I hope you’re right. But I like pop albums, too! I want to hear the Lady Gaga album. I want to hear what she did. I may or may not like it, but it’s an album, and certainly she has a vision. Same with Coldplay and their next record, or whatever it might be. I don’t want to hear just their next single. I want 10 songs. So, hopefully it sticks around.

You’re kicking off your next tour at the end of this month, and Blake Shelton — who’s featured on the new album — is coming along with you. Can we expect to see you two playing ‘Don’t Drink the Water’ together?
No doubt. When I can afford to pay him a little extra every evening, I will get him out there singing [laughs]. He was really funny at the ACMs. I beat him in one category and then I walked backstage with the trophy, and he said, “Hey! Then I’m not going” [laughs]. I said, “OK. Good to know. Thanks.” Nah, he was kidding. We’re gonna have a good time singing that.

Do you have any marriage advice for him and his soon-to-be wife, Miranda Lambert?
No, because he’s marrying Miranda. I think the best thing he could do is just do whatever Miranda says, don’t you?

Would have to agree with that! If you were looking back at when you were a kid, say, a 16-year-old Brad Paisley, what would be on your own ‘Country Music’ mix tape at that age?
It would’ve been around 1990 or so. I would’ve been listening to Dwight Yoakam and Alabama and Restless Heart and Vince Gill and Steve Wariner, a lot of those guys. Ricky Skaggs. I loved all the stuff going on then that was musical — that had guitars in it, you know. A lot of stuff like that, that was band-oriented and had great guitar solos. Country music’s always had the best musicians in any format of music, and I always gravitated toward that, stuff that was musically interesting.

Would you say that era of music really inspired what you’re doing on this album?
Oh, yeah. I definitely do. I think that that was one of those things that I just can’t escape on any album I’ve ever done.

Well, you’ve pulled in a lot of great artists for collaborations on ‘This Is Country Music.’ Later on in your career, which country artist are you hoping might ask you to sing on a track with them?
Anybody, just anybody that called. I’ve called in so many favors of my heroes over the years, whether that be Alabama or Vince [Gill] or anybody. Anybody that wants me to sing, I probably oughta do it. Jimmy Dickens, I’ve certainly put him through the ringer. I’d be glad to be a part of something for somebody.

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